The Sabres threw a surprise into their captaincy announcement today, naming wingers Thomas Vanek and Steve Ott as co-captains and defenseman Christian Ehrhoff as the alternate captain.
Vanek will wear the 'C' for home games and Ott will wear it for road contests. For games they are not the captain, Vanek and Ott will join Ehrhoff as an alternate.
The announcement by coach Ron Rolston makes Vanek and Ott the 17th and 18th permanent captains in franchise history. They take over the captaincy from Jason Pominville, who was named in October, 2011 and held the role until he was traded to Minnesota at the trade deadline in April.
"We just thought both guys represented what we wanted," Rolston said. "Nothing more, nothing less than that. It's all about the influence they have on the team. Those guys are big influences on the team. We thought that was the way to go."
The Sabres, of course, had co-captains during their glory run from 2005-07 as Daniel Briere and Chris Drury shared the 'C' and generally alternated games.
Ott, 31, joined the team in July, 2012, after a trade with the Dallas Stars for longtime center Derek Roy. Ott had nine goals, 15 assists and 93 penalty minutes while playing all 48 games for the Sabres last year, his first in Buffalo after spending the previous nine in Dallas.
"It's a tremendous honor, the ultimate honor to wear the C for this team," said Ott.
Vanek, 29, was Buffalo's first-round pick, the fifth overall, in 2003 out of the University of Minnesota. His selection came after he was named Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four held at then-HSBC Arena. He spent the 2004-05 season in Rochester and has been a fixture in the Buffalo lineup since.
"Obviously it means a lot to be representing this great organization with Steve and Christian," said Vanek. "It's an honor but as I've told the guys, this letter doesn't mean much if we don't do anything as a group."
Vanek had 20 goals and 21 assists in 38 games last year of the lockout-shortened season. He is a two-game 40-goal scorer, with a career high of 43 goals in the 2006-07 season. Vanek has 250 goals and 488 points in 585 career games for Buffalo. He ranks sixth in franchise history in goals and should pass both Craig Ramsay (252) and Danny Gare (267) this season. Vanek is 10th in points and a 70-point season would push him into the franchise's top five in that category as well.
Vanek, however, has been the subject of much trade speculation for several months as he is playing the final season of a seven-year, $50-million deal he was awarded in 2007 when the Edmonton Oilers tried to sign him to an offer sheet and the Sabres matched the deal.
Vanek and Ott are both in the final years of their deals but Rolston said that didn't enter into the team's thinking.
"I said from day one I've liked it here," Vanek said. "I enjoy being here and having my family grow up here. Is it going to make a difference [about re-signing in Buffalo]? It's not about this. It's about how good our team is."
"Thomas has been a big part of this organization for a long time," Rolston said. "He knows how it ticks. He wants to have a great year and he also has been really good in camp in helping our young guys develop. whether it's on the bench or in the room."
Ehrhoff, 31, joined the Sabres as a free agent in 2011 after playing the first seven years of his career with San Jose and Vancouver. He had five goals and 17 assists in 47 games last season. He had career highs in 14 goals and 50 points for the Canucks in 2010-11, helping his team to Game Seven of the Stanley Cup final against Boston.
Click below to hear the new captains' meeting with the media and Rolston's daily briefing, during which he said he doubts Marcus Foligno will be available for this weekend's games against Ottawa and Pittsburgh.